ONE LAST THING Playing Hardball

Will Dad’s coaching turn his son into a shortstop...or a lawyer?

LIKE LOTS OF DADS, I STARTED this summer with big intentions. Big plans. This was the summer I would attempt to teach my second grade son to play baseball.

I figured, hey, plenty of fathers laid the coaching groundwork for sons who have gone on to athletic greatness. Look at Tiger Woods; there was no reason 1 couldn’t do the same. And it was not like my son was a total beginner. Last year, when he was six years old, he played tee ball-an odd baseball hybrid in which first graders learn basics like “turn to the left at the base” awTTeaveTlie^at at the plate,” It’s sort of like the Go Fish of athletics.

But this summer was different. This was the year he would move up to hitting a pitched baseball, and I was determined that, with my help, my boy would shine.

It didn’t quite work out that way.

Not that he didn’t play well this summer. I just can’t take any credit for his success. My coaching career lasted about five minutes, and consisted of one trip to the backyard to prepare for his first organized practice back in late spring. We began our ill-fated outing with the first batting lesson.

“All right, son,” I said enthusiastically as 1 waved the ball frantically to make sure he saw it. “When I throw the ball, you use the bat to hit it.” I thought that sounded simple enough-clear, direct, and devoid of subtleties he might not grasp.

“What if the ball hits me first’?” he immediately retorted. “It will hurt me and it will be your fault since you threw it and 1 will be injured and I will have to tell mom that you hurt me with the ball and she will need more child support to take me to the doctor.”

I made a mental note to check my divorce decree to see if he was right, but for the time being I charged ahead.

“Son, why don’t you try to hit the ball before it hits you?” 1 thought this would appeal to his competitive spirit.

“You don’t even care that I got hurt,” wailed the as-yet unhurt seven-year-old. “You don’t love me. I want to go stay with mom.”

This conversation was taking on a familiar tone.

“I do love you, son,’ I urged with feigned patience. “The ball has not hit you yet. It may never hit you, especially if you hit it first. That’s why you’re holding the bat. It isn’t just for disciplining the cat. Would you like to try to use it to hit the ball?”

“No,” he said as he defiantly dropped the bat. “Mom would never try to hit me with a ball. She loves me and you’re mean.”

By now he was stalking to the telephone to call his mother to come see the bruises he never got from the ball I never pitched. It was time to change the subject.

“I know,” I suggested. “Let’s practice fielding.”

He stopped for a moment and looked back over his shoulder suspiciously, weighing the options.

“What does that mean?” he asked without a hint of commitment.

“It’s easy,” I assured him as I popped the sole of my glove for emphasis. “I’ll roll the ball to you and you catch it in your glove and throw it back to me. Try and avoid windows and pets and my groin, OK?”

He waited for the inevitable inspiration, and finally, it came.

“What if it bounces up and hits me in the mouth and I have to get stitches?” he asked as he focused steely-eyed slits on me.

I already knew which direction this conversation was headed, so I surrendered. We returned indoors and settled down for some quality father-son time watching a violent action movie. We both considered the practice session a success-he because he was not injured or bleeding, 1 because my child support had not increased. He ultimately survived the entire baseball season without a single scrape or CAT scan.

As my son grows, I will watch him embrace new and different challenges. There will be new sports to learn and new paths to follow. As a father, I will want to be part of those experiences. 1 will want to help him pursue new opportunities and build on his natural abilities.

Maybe next summer I’ll teach him how to be a divorce lawyer. He seems ready.

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